While reading Gopnik’s treatise The Information, I tried to categorize myself into one of the groups he describes: in the face of the Digital Age and the naturalization of the Internet in our everyday lives, am I a Never-Better, Better-Never, or Ever-Waser? My experience with the Internet could place me into any camp. As a Never-Better I have benefitted countless times the seemingly magical qualities of the internet: the mirror which lets me speak face-to-face with my family while living eight thousand kilometers away; the invisible brain which helps me decipher any question; the oracle in my pocket which brings missives about friends, foes, and the weather. My life is inarguably better for these technologies. But I can also be cynical: as a Millenial Better-Never, I long for the days I never knew when lived experience was prime. I imagine it was a time when one’s thoughts, actions, reading habits and desires didn’t seem constantly covered by a cloud of surveillance, and where marketing existed in its corner and didn’t bleed into one’s mental space. But really, if I’m going to be honest, did those days actually exist? A Better-Never’s nostalgia is a trick – a coping mechanism – a denial of accepting humans as eternally fallible creatures no matter the technological era. The Never-Better’s idealism is a kind of trick, too: the Internet today is not magic, but human-made– and in human hands, prone to any of the misabuses humans can commit, no matter the technological era.
This leaves me to consider myself an Ever-Waser. As a generally pragmatic person this category does make sense. Dr. Hannah McGregor encapsulated the Ever-Was worldview during the introduction to our Publishing History seminar: new media doesn’t eradicate old media, it merely reframes the technological landscape. As a nascent publisher, especially one with an interest in disseminating art in honest and inspiring ways, I have to embrace the new media landscape of the Internet, taking comfort in the idea that non-digital forms still have a place somewhere and that art has survived, and even thrived, through every technological epoch. Placed cozily in this camp, I can calm myself in the face of an uncertain future and move steadily forward with a publishing practice.
When considering these categories for society as a whole, however, it’s hard to be as pragmatic. If the global socio-political events of the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to lump society into one homogenous, agreeable group. What do we mean by “society”, anyway? From my subject position I could say society is North America, is the Western world, are English-speaking countries, is the Internet-using population – until the borders of the definition stretch so far around the globe that they meet at the other side and then there are no borders at all. Within this borderless, Global Society, there are still innumerable camps of Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, Ever-Wasers, each with their own subjectivities and agendas for using the Internet. Instead I want to suggest a fourth category to add to Gopnik’s taxonomy: the Never-Wasers. Never before has the world had the kind of situation we have now. It is one in which the power structures that exist in the physical world don’t hold the same control in a digital world: marginalized subjectivities now have the opportunity to address or circumvent these structures without violence or physical upheaval, an ability undeniably aided by the Internet. Furthermore, there is a new player: the technology itself, the machine learning that is becoming embedded in the nature of the digital world and which is affecting the reality of the socio-political, physical, ecological world. Gopnik writes: “It is the wraparound presence… of the machine that oppresses us,” and that “our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those.” However, we’ve moved beyond the fact of the Internet being merely a “presence” or “contraption.” It is a society in and of itself, a virtual reality overlaid a physical one, but with no less real repercussions. Human “consciousness” and thus “credos” are influenced, expanded and rewired in the face of a multitude of subjectivities and an extra layer of reality, the human world will expand, collapse, and change in ways we can, at this moment, only speculate.